I recently sat down with the head of a leading public relations agency. In our conversation, the executive very poignantly said, “PR is a sales job.” I have respect for this person so I am not going to use this blog post to pick a fight nor am I the kind of person that would do that anyway. Since that meeting, I just haven’t been able to let go of what was said. Probably because as we explored that notion, we agreed that some people just “have it” in their blood to be assertive and “stop at nothing” to get media placements and some don’t. However, there is more to explore. Here’s why I agree that while PR is a selling tactic it is not the whole job.

Getting media placements is not just a numbers game

I would bet good money that if the PR executive and I sat down again, we would agree on this point too. Sure, clients hire PR firms because they want to get as many mentions in the media as possible. But, to simply measure the effectiveness or value of the PR dollar spent by counting the number of “hits” within a month or quarter is missing a larger point. For PR truly to succeed, the placements need to be measured as to their ability to communicate tone, message, and brand.

The tone in which a company is covered by a journalist needs to be inquisitive, supportive, positive, and reassuring. A journalist cannot only write about a company’s new product or solution and mention what is being featured or announced. The article needs to convey how the company is positively making a difference or solving a problem for the buyer.

The message that the journalist writes doesn’t need to be in marketing verbatim but should lean toward supporting the company’s messaging platform and argue why. Much like a fan at a sporting event or a voter at the polls, the journalist’s words must convey how the company is differentiated in the marketplace and vs competitors.

The brand name, executive name, and quotes from executives are all critical items that must, in varying degrees, be mentioned in publications. Often a media outlet will include a link back to the company website or landing page too. Whether an article carries a byline, features an executive in a piece or just mentions the company by name, are all important scoring attributes that must be considered when totaling the value of media coverage.

Building a narrative cannot be done in stops and starts

In a sales position, an organization will have different people targeting different verticals. For example, one person may be focusing on closing retail leads. Another may be focused on financial services or travel. In a startup environment, especially, the sales team casts a wide net to get as many sales closed within a quarter. Most of the time a startup will not know if their sales will lean more heavily in one vertical or another even if they have intention to close more sales in one over another. One salesperson may close a retail lead while another closes a financial one. In PR, good luck running your team in stops and starts. It won’t work.

Sure, a PR team can pitch different vertical and horizontal publications simultaneously. It’s the mindset that matters. A salesperson is poised to close. While a PR person is also encouraged to “close,” with a media placement, the result is a public demonstration of what was pitched, described by the executive, learned by the journalist, and published. We are NOT closing leads. PR professionals are crafting narratives and telling stories that will result in getting judged by many parties.

The PR quota means nothing if there is no measurement of brand lift

Lastly, I have experienced many instances where a PR person has hit their goal, only to realize that there was no measurable brand lift as a result. When a salesperson makes their quota, revenue is realized at some point. In PR, while many people may argue that media placements alone are hard to use as a measurement of anything directly, there are formulas that can be developed depending upon what goal a company wants to accomplish.

Before starting a public relations campaign, the PR team and executives must establish what they want to accomplish together and agree upon how to measure the outcome. For example, a former client was in the midst of acquiring a new round of funding. The CEO wanted to show investors how competitive his company was vs a competitor. We built a model that showed by comparison how our client’s media coverage had them more well-positioned to take a market leadership position in their category vs another company. While the metric was not the icing on the cake to close the funding, it certainly did help the financial institution understand better why making an investment in our client was a smart choice.

This post was originally published at 2pinz.